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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Guest blogger, Ethan Hartman.

Throughout history there have been some crazy Mofos, and unfortunately some of these crazy Mofos have wielded a great deal of power and influence. From Nero to Hitler to Kim Jong-Un, there are plenty of people who were arguably insane, yet held an insane amount of power. You know what the problem is when nut-jobs have power, besides the obvious things like controlling armies and nukes and all that fun stuff? Regular people listen to their wacko ideas and believe them. The 1980s were no exceptions.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected over incumbent Jimmy Carter. Reagan’s election signaled the rise of a new age of conservatism and the revival of religious fundamentalism. Many preachers gained prominence, and some said some not-so nice things and had some pretty dangerous ideas.

Inspired by what was going on in the United States, Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson created the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, which would go on to be considered one of the classic X-men stories and serve as the loose basis for the second X-men movie, X-Men United. The story involves the X-men team uniting with their greatest foe, Magneto, in order to stop Reverend Willian Stryker, an insane religious extremist who preaches for the destruction of mutant-kind.

Reverend Stryker was inspired by some of the real-life preachers of the 80s. Two notable inspirations were Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Jerry Falwell:

  • Founded Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1956
  • Founded Liberty Baptist College (now known as Liberty University) in 1977
  • Founded the Moral Majority, a political action group that lobbied for Christian principles and against opposing ideologies in 1979
  • Accused of making Anti-Semitic remarks
  • Accused of being racist for only allowing whites into the Lynchburg Christian academy, which he founded and for criticizing preachers involved in Civil Rights Movement
  • At its peak in the mid 1980’s, his church was taking in $100 million
  • His show the Old-Time Gospel Hour earned him $60 million a year

Pat Robertson:

  • Charted Christian Broadcasting Network in 1960
  • Aired first episode of the 700 club, a religious themed Late Night Show knock-off, 1966
  • Expands CBN throughout the United States and internationally during the 70’s
  • Began building state of the art headquarters valued at$ 22 million when finished in 1978 for CBN in Virginia beach in 1976
  • His book, The New World Order, was accused of having Anti-Semitic overtones including citations of Nesta Webster, a known Anti-Semite.

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Both Falwell’s and Robertson’s organizations were extremely wealthy, partly because of donations from followers. This image of Stryker’s massive New York City headquarters implies that Stryker’s organization is also very wealthy. Since, it is revealed later in the story in the story that Stryker was originally a soldier in the army, the reader must assume that Stryker likely acquired his wealth through the donations of his followers.

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Falwell and Robertson were both supporters of the President Ronald Reagan and considered to be close friends with the President. In this panel, a senator in attendance of Stryker’s rally asks an aid what the President thinks of Stryker’s message. The aid replies that the President thinks that Stryker’s ideas are worth hearing. This panel is a very subtle reference to Reagan’s close friendship with people like Falwell and Robertson

In order to critique Stryker and therefore Falwell and Robertson, Claremont references historical examples of injustice against minorities such as violence against African Americans and the Holocaust. Both are examples of what can happen when hateful messages are accepted and practiced.

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These panels are of two dead mutant children killed by Stryker’s secret paramilitary group, the Purifiers, and hung on the swing set with the word “Mutie” draped across their chests. This scene is a clear reference to the practice of lynching where primarily blacks but also other minorities were captured by a mob, killed (usually by hanging), and left out for all to see as an example. The allusion is only furthered by the fact that these children are black.

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In this panel, Magneto offers one of the more quotable lines in the entire story. While there have been other examples of genocides that were religiously motivated, Magneto chiefly refers to the Holocaust, which as a Jew he suffered through as a boy.

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In this sequence a more direct analogy between mutants and African Americans is made. Kitty Pryde of the X-men is visibly upset after getting into an altercation with another boy in her dance class over the boy’s support of Stryker’s crusade. The point being made is that it is easier for one to ignore prejudice and persecution when it is happening to another group. People should pay attention to an injustice committed against any group.

One of the most notable aspect of Stryker’s character is his conviction in the righteousness of his cause and his willingness to resort to cruelty to further his goals.

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In these series of panels Stryker explains what lead him on his crusade. By killing his wife and child, Stryker seems even more cruel and hypocritical to the reader. Also, there are significant gaps in action between panels. These gaps allow readers to fill in the details themselves. It effectively causes Stryker to seem like even more of a monster. The sepia coloring of the sequence relates to the primal and savage nature of Stryker’s actions.

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In this series of panels, Stryker has just turned on a device that uses Professor X’s powers to target and kill mutants. Anne, the head of the Purifiers, runs over to Stryker bleeding from her nose, revealing that she is a mutant. Over these two pages, one thing that is apparent is Stryker’s unwavering commitment to his cause. He is willing to go through anyone who stands in his way, even his allies and followers. The second thing that is apparent is Stryker’s ignorance of the basic themes of the Bible like love and tolerance and his usage of God’s will as justification for his heinous actions.

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills is a classic story. Through the characterization of Reverend Stryker and historical allusions, Claremont is able to critique the preachers of the 1980s conservative revival. Furthermore the story shows the danger of when people with hateful agendas gain power and urges humanity to ignore the messages of those who preach hate.

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